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 A low-key memoir of a thousand-mile camel trek across the Gobi desert in pre-WW II China, tracing not too diligently the steps of Genghis Khan--and complementing Tim Severin's In Search of Genghis Khan (1992). Just out of Yale at the height of the Depression, DeFrancis (Chinese/University of Hawaii; Visible Speech, 1989, etc.--not reviewed) went to Beijing to learn Chinese in order to get a job with Standard Oil (only belatedly did he discover that Standard Oil did its hiring in New York). The project suggested to DeFrancis in China by Canadian Desmond Martin (a Genghis Khan enthusiast and this book's photographer) was to be only a summer adventure, but the experience and the author's growing interest in the Chinese language were to determine his subsequent career. In a pace as leisurely as that of the camels he and Martin rode, DeFrancis describes with beguiling candor a journey that began at Guihua, where the travelers bought camels; continued north to the Temple of the Larks, gateway to territory ruled by the Mongols; crossed a thousand miles of the Gobi (``Gobi,'' DeFrancis tells us, means ``gravel'') to Suzhou; went down the old Silk Road to Lanzhou, where, to escape escalating tensions between Communists and local warlords, the pair took a raft down the Yellow River to Baotou; and returned by train to Beijing. Along the way, DeFrancis and Martin coped with recalcitrant camels; lived on tea and millet; endured temperatures of up to 140 degrees; visited Etsina, now an abandoned city, which Genghis Khan conquered and Marco Polo admired; saw the southern end of the Great Wall; and observed the death throes of old China as Communists, Japanese, and local warlords vied for control of these sparsely populated and inhospitable regions. As much a gently humorous jaunt as a keenly observed portrait of a place and people about to be devastated by war. (Seventy-eight illustrations, seven maps)

Pub Date: June 30th, 1993
ISBN: 0-8248-1493-2
Page count: 296pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1993